Nicole Battle, CEO of Neighbourhood Houses Victoria:
"It’s also really important during times like these to remember why we [Neighbourhood Houses] exist. At the end of the day, our purpose is to connect people to community and this goes beyond providing a physical location. That’s what I want to reiterate right now. We need to continue to support our communities even if this is done remotely."
Tim Costello, social advocate:
"This is a moment in our shared humanity when we don’t know what happens next, but I suspect that we will need more than just an economic stimulus; we will need a stimulus in civility, in community and in charity that can only be generated from within, as we lament and then renew ourselves together."
PHYSICAL ISOLATION DOESN'T MEAN SOCIAL ISOLATION - CHANGING THE NARRATIVE
What’s important at the moment is that people keep themselves physically distant from others to help minimise the spread of COVID-19. But physical distance and isolation doesn’t mean people have to be socially isolated. In fact, that's exactly what we don't want to have happen - as we know, socially isolated people are vulnerable and more at risk.
I read a comment recently that suggested as an alternative: "We are practicing physical distancing while building social connections". Let's start using this phrase instead of "social isolation" or "social distancing" and make this the mantra for Neighbourhood Houses!
Read this excellent article in The Conversation that highlights the importance of being socially connected - not socially isolated.
STAYING CONNECTED TO YOUR COMMUNITY
As a Neighbourhood House, and a trusted leader within your community, it’s going to be very important that you stay connected to your community. At this stage there hasn’t been any definite direction from DHHS about Neighbourhood Houses closing, but it seems clear that they are keen that Houses continue supporting their communities in whatever way they can.
If you make the decision to close your doors and have staff working from home, make this an opportunity to think about other ways of connecting with your community. How can you find and support vulnerable members of the community? What tasks can you give to your volunteers that help keep them engaged? How do you provide information and connect to people who don’t have the internet?
Shutting your doors doesn’t mean you should shut down everything you do. Yes, it’s a great time to catch up on all those niggly tasks that have been piling up in your in-tray. But it’s also an opportunity for you to be proactive, innovative, creative – or just an important contributor to helping your community get through this very difficult time.
Here are some ideas that you might like to try:
Share positive and useful information on your Facebook page. In Nicole Battle's words: “your FB page should be a safe and nurturing space that people can come to for respite from the constant negativity”. For example, provide information on how to maintain good mental health during a period of isolation. Click here to see a video about this on Pangerang's FB page
Join the NHVic Facebook Member’s Group here
Avoid negative news and angry commentary - in your own reading and any communication you provide to your community
Post live videos and chats – interview staff, volunteers and members of your community about their experiences with COVID-19 and what they're doing to stay connected
Put together a podcast collecting stories from people within your community about their experience of COVID-19. buzzsprout is one of the most popular podcasting platforms. Click here to find out more
Start a ‘pop up’ Facebook group to organise others within your community to help out with grocery deliveries, medication or social connections. See here for information about a group that did that in Canada
Create a phone tree for your participants – and look at how you can extend this out to other vulnerable members in the community
Contact other services in your community to see how you can work collaboratively to support vulnerable people in the community
Look for alternative ways to continue to provide food relief where this is an activity of your Neighbourhood House such as use of appointments, putting together orders for people to pick up etc.
Community meals could possibly be supplied as a takeaway or delivery service for those who rely on it
Facilitate exchange of group members’ contact details where participants agree to do so. Encourage them to support each other by regular phone contact, Skype, messaging etc
Run online workshops on how to stay digitally connected (e.g. how to use skype, Facebook etc.) and how to shop online to increase digital independence
For those who are internet savvy, the following may be options:
Look to provide online connections such as Skype groups, Facebook groups etc. for your different user groups.
Run a virtual book club, craft club, exercise group etc. where people can update each other on their activity and progress
Ask tutors to run talks or classes online eg. by YouTube
Provide links to interesting and relevant content such as TED Talks or others. Check out our monthly newsletters for some good ones to get you started.
If you have staff working from home, set up regular times to catch up by phone or online. Share photos of your workspaces, do quizzes together, or catch up for a virtual cup of coffee.
Reimagine well-known works of art, using household items, pets, and anything else you can get your hands on! Click here for more information
Looking for ways to stay fit without going to the gym? Click here to find out how to make a functional gym at home without spending loads of money on equipment
You can find out more about staying fit at home with this article How to stay fit and active at home during the coronavirus self-isolation
You can access library resources online, including e-books and movies. Here is information from the High Country Library, which covers Bright, Mt Beauty, Myrtleford and Wangaratta. If your community isn’t covered by this library service, get in touch with your own to see what they can offer (Wodonga Library, Indigo Shire Libraries, Towong Shire Libraries)
Practice meditation with this free app from Smiling Mind
Learn how to juggle with Robbie Curtis (warning - he makes it look super-easy! And yes, he is my nephew!)
Time on your hands? Here are 15 epic video games that you may finally have time to master! Click here for more information.
Keeping fit, finding pleasure, listening to music, gardening – these are all things included in The Conversation’s survival guide for staying at home here.
Here are some great cooking ideas using ingredients that you’re likely to have in the pantry
Musicians and artists are amongst the hardest hit in our communities. Here's an idea from popular Australian band, The Cat Empire. Support musicians from around the globe – have a Lockdown Get Down! Play music as you grapple with what to do next, while you cook, while your kids take a bath, on your computer while you work at the kitchen table, let your kids make their own #lockdowngetdown playlists to pump in their bedrooms, and keep the music streaming as you drift off to sleep…
Play your favourite artists non-stop on your preferred streaming service
Consider moving to a paid streaming subscription if that is manageable for you
Create a playlist: name it Lockdown Get Down and share it with your friends
Post your Lockdown Get Down photos and videos with hashtags #lockdowngetdown and #thecatempire so we can see you all rocking out at home!
HAVE YOU CLOSED YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD HOUSE?
If you’ve made the difficult decision to close, you’ll need to consider the following:
Do you have a business continuity plan? A business continuity plan documents the steps you need to take after an emergency to get your business up and running again as soon as possible. You can access a very simple template with instructions from the Business Victoria website here.
Have you checked with your funders to see if closing will impact on contract delivery and therefore milestone payments?
Are there services that run from your House that could be considered ‘essential’ and therefore mean that you could stay open?
How will you continue doing community development work?
What will you put in place so that staff stay connected and don’t become isolated themselves?
Is your organisation eligible to apply for any of the government assistance that is currently being rolled out?
ONLINE LINKS TO RELIABLE INFORMATION
It's so easy to get swamped by the amount of coronavirus-related information that's coming out minute-by-minute. And it's also easy to get sucked into the negative and fear-mongering narrative that has been prevalent online.
The following are links to the most reliable sources of information that you need about COVID-19 in Australia.
The Australian Government Department of Health website provides a daily update. Information includes the current status of COVID-19, how you can protect yourself and others, and symptoms and when to get tested. You can also access links to additional detailed information
Current information about COVID-19 from the Victorian Government can be found here: https://www.vic.gov.au/coronavirusresponse
In Victoria, you can access relevant information through the Department of Health and Human Services: https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/victorian-public-coronavirus-disease-covid-19. There is also a daily update from the Victorian Chief Health Officer: https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/coronavirus-covid-19-daily-update
NHVic provide a Fact Sheet with information relating specifically to neighbourhood houses
This short video from the Australian Academy of Science has a lot of very useful information about how COVID-19 is spread. Be aware that some information about gatherings is now out of date: https://www.science.org.au/curious/video/covid-19-how-does-it-spread
NDIA has released information about COVID-19 for people with disability in Easy Read and other languages: https://www.ndis.gov.au/understanding/ndis-and-other-government-services/ndis-and-disaster-response
Social distancing guidance – the Australian Government Department of Health has released a information sheet providing guidance on ‘social distancing’: https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/03/coronavirus-covid-19-information-on-social-distancing.pdf
Information about the Australian Government’s economic response to COVID-19 can be found here: https://treasury.gov.au/coronavirus
Information about COVID-19 and domestic violence can be found here: http://dvvic.org.au/covid-19-and-family-violence/
VicHealth resources for health promotion and workplace wellbeing: https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/coronavirus
You can also download the Australian Government’s Coronavirus App(Coronavirus Australia) at the Apple App Store and Google Play
Some Neighbourhood Houses are closing their doors and their staff/teams are working remotely. You can access a great resource from the Tamarack Institute (Canada). The organisation is set up so staff always work remotely, so they have some great tips on how to do this successfully. Click here to access the resource (staff orientation guide).
Birgit Schonafinger, director of Fishbowl PR and who some of you may remember ran a Communications workshop for us a couple of years ago, has some great tips for communicating with participants and other stakeholders about your neighbourhood house’s pandemic plan. She says that during this crisis your messages should be:
Brief – people are consuming so much information they appreciate you getting straight to the point. This will make your messages stand out.
Clear – don’t use jargon or lengthy, possibly ambiguous explanations.
Focused – focus on what your audience(s) need to know. What are their questions at this time?
Caring – sometimes brief and direct messages lose empathy. As a trusted part of your stakeholders’ lives, remember to maintain the care they have come to expect from you.
Frequent – explain how regularly you will be providing updates and do so.
You can find more information on her website here
Zoom has some useful tips for people working from home who will be meeting online. There’s a lot of information about how to use Zoom at the start of the article, but keep reading as there are also more general tips for working at home. Click here to access.
More and more organisations and individuals are using online platforms to facilitate social, work and educational activity. Here are some great resources you can use to make the most out of your online gatherings:
Click here for a great resource to help you get the most out of online meetings
Not for profit technology resources for the COVID-19 crisis from Infoxchange
Looking for good icebreakers to help participants ease into your online meetings? Click here for Icebreakers for online meetings that introverts will love
Virtual icebreakers and connection activities from Training Wheels can be found here
30 Virtual Team Building Games from Training Wheels might be useful for keeping your staff and volunteers connected while they’re working remotely. Click here to access it
Justice Connect has prepared a guide for community organisations on some of the most pressing issues raised by COVID-19, including employment, contracts and insurance. Access the COVID-19 FAQs here. They have also just released updated resources on calling and holding meetings for those of you (us) who are considering your options for your annual general meeting.
WorkSafe’s guide to exposure to COVID-19 in workplaces can be found here.
From Fairwork Ombudsman: Coronavirus and Australian workplace laws can be found here.
Anglicare WA have shared their COVID-19 Response Plan with the Councils of Social Service network. You can access it here. I will be using this to develop a response plan for the Network over the next week.
BEWARE OF SCAMMERS!
It’s hard to believe, but there are scammers already out there taking advantage of people’s fear and anxiety about COVID-19. There was a recent warning released from various government websites about scam messages being sent by text. You can find out more on the Australian Government’s Stay Smart Online website: https://www.staysmartonline.gov.au/alert-service/covid-19-scam-messages-targeting-australians and Scam Watch website: https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/news/covid-19-coronavirus-scams
SOME LIGHT RELIEF
Someone once said "laughter is the best medicine!". For anyone looking for some light relief, there's lots to be found on the internet. Here's a small (and reasonably inoffensive!) selection:
Quarantine day 6 – keeping yourself entertained while in quarantine: click here to watch
College student Sam Thullesen has “totally figured out the coronavirus." Click here to watch (you will need to scroll down slightly).
A collection of photos and tweets. Click here to view.
Who says you can’t train cats? Being home during this time of physical isolation might be just the chance you need to train your own cat. Check out the video here.
From cartoonist First Dog on the Moon: Pets of the Pandemic! True stories of how animals are ‘helping’ in self isolation. Click here to see the cartoon.
USEFUL THINGS TO READ, LISTEN TO AND WATCH
This is a great article from The Conversation called “Social distancing can make you lonely. Here’s now to stay connected when you’re in lockdown”
This is an excellent article from The Conversation called ‘Cabin fever’: Australia must prepare for the social and psychological impacts of a coronavirus lockdown
In this video, The Conversation’s Digital Storytelling Editor Sunanda Creagh put readers’ COVID-19 questions to two leading academics from the University of Technology Sydney with expertise in viruses and vaccine development, Dr Lisa Sedger and Professor Michael Wallach. Click here to watch the video.
The Conversation has a page dedicated to information about COVID-19. This is a mix of useful tips and ideas, and current articles from a range of well-credentialed journalists, researchers and lecturers. You can access it here.
From The Guardian: The family lockdown guide: how to emotionally prepare for coronavirus quarantine. You can access the article here.
The Full Story podcast – Finding kindness in the time of coronavirus
Read these examples of wonderful acts of kindness from around the globe.
The community-led movement creating hope in the time of coronavirus is an insightful article in The Conversation that looks at the many self-managed groups that are popping up around the globe, and the lessons to be learnt from this approach.
This TED Talk, How we can navigate the coronavirus pandemic with courage and hope, with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, explores issues such as leadership, fear and anxiety. There is a lot in it that’s relevant to Neighbourhood Houses. Click here to watch.
This article Coronavirus distancing measures are confusing. Here are 3 things to ask yourself before you see someone helps to clarify what you can and can’t do in terms of contact with others.
TIME FOR REFLECTION
There is so much fear and anxiety about COVID-19. The following reflection by Gurpreet Gill gives us a different way of thinking about it.
And, what if...
If we subscribe to the philosophy that life is always working out for us, that there is an intelligence far greater than humans at work...
That all is interconnected.
the virus is here to help us?
What is truly important.
Reconnecting with family and community.
Reducing travel so that the environment, the skies, the air, our lungs all get a break.
Parts of China are seeing blue sky and clouds for the first time in forever with the factories being shut down.
Working from home rather than commuting to work (less pollution, more personal time).
Reconnecting with family as there is more time at home.
An invitation to turn inwards - a deep meditation - rather than the usual extroverted going out to self-soothe.
To reconnect with self - what is really important to me?
A reset economically.
The working poor. The lack of healthcare access for over 30 million in the US. The need for paid sick leave.
How hard does one need to work to be able to live, to have a life outside of work?
To face our mortality - check back into "living" life rather than simply working, working, working.
To reconnect with our elders, who are so susceptible to this virus.
And, washing our hands - how did that become a "new" thing that we needed to remember. But, yes, we did.
The presence of Grace for all.
There is a shift underway in our society - what if it is one that is favorable for us?
What if this virus is an ally in our evolution?
In our remembrance of what it means to be connected, humane, living a simpler life, to be less impactful/ more kind to our environment.
An offering from my heart this morning. Offered as another perspective. Another way of relating to this virus, this unfolding, this evolution.
It was time for a change, we all knew that.
And, change has arrived.